Getting lost and finding the way again

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Image credit: Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay


When I was younger (back in the days before Google Maps and GPS), I used to learn my way around places I'd moved to by intentionally getting lost as a means of exploring.

I'd take along a paper map (remember those old folding things that spread out to take up most of the width of a car?), and I have a fairly good sense of direction, so I was confident that I could eventually find my way again. Mostly, though, I would just pick a general direction and drive to see what I could find.

If I decided to head out to explore the northeast part of town, I'd head north then east then north then east again along whatever streets looked promising. Along the way, I'd discover new shops, new places to eat, and new things to do. I'd find the business districts, the commercial districts, and the residential districts. I learned which parts of town felt safer and which ones felt less so.

My friends thought I was nuts, but I found it to be a really useful (and fun) way to learn new parts of a city I'd moved to.

I still do this on smaller scale now. Sometimes it's nothing more than trying to find an alternate route around traffic congestion or making the best of an unexpected detour from road construction, but occasionally it's still for the simple joy of discovery to see what I can find.

I wish I could say that I've lived my life with the same enthusiasm for this process, but I haven't.

Don't get me wrong! My life path has looked just as jagged, wandering, and indirect as my driving paths often looked in my times of exploring new places. As I look back on my progress, it's generally looked a lot like that old plan of heading north a bit, then turning east, only to go north again, only to turn around when I hit a dead end and backtrack a little bit.

The path has looked much like my old driving expeditions, but my attitude about it couldn't have been any more different.

In life, I've generally panicked at the slightest hint of not knowing exactly where I was going. I put off turning around long after the point when I should have taken a U-turn. I see each change of direction as a failure and beat myself up for not getting it right to begin with.

But if I'm really honest as I look back, there are many times (if not every time) when I couldn't have gotten where I was going without the rambling, wandering detours I took along the way.

There are things I learned and new options I discovered along those detours that were vital to getting where I needed to be or even knowing where I really wanted to be.

For example, the kintsugi repaired stone jewelry and accessories that now make up a majority of my work life actually started out as part of a small side project that I expected to be an adjunct to my coaching services. As it turned out, the coaching died away for lack of interest and the kintsugi jewelry wound up having much more demand than I ever dreamed.

I quickly discovered that I could make a much bigger positive difference in the world with the jewelry than I ever did with individual coaching, and that became a turn in the road. That little detour felt like a failure at the time as I lost my way with the foray into coaching, but it's turned out to be an unexpected gift that I don't think I would ever have found any other way.

The thing is that all of life seems to be a long process of getting lost and finding our way again over and over and over again. (Or as Pema Chödrön would say, they are continually falling apart and coming together over and over again.) It's an inevitable part of life and an inevitable part of growth.

I may not have a choice about that, but I can choose how I approach it. I can choose to show up with panic and blame and lots of beating myself up every time I lose the way, or I can show up with an attitude of discovery and exploration.

As I look back, the former (which is my more typical response) seems to only keep me stuck and heading in the wrong direction for much longer than is helpful. The latter approach helps me find my way, chart new paths, and identify new options much more quickly so I can get on my way again.

And, besides, it makes the journey so much more fun along the way!

How do you respond to times when you feel like you've gotten lost on life's journey? Has that response been helpful to you in finding your way again?

What other ways might you respond to the feeling being lost that might be more helpful?

What would help you to make that shift in your response?


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